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Responsive Learning Design Project Proposal

Project Proposal

The innovative project outlined in this proposal brings together academics from four Australian and three international universities, national and international teaching and learning experts in inclusive design, representatives from Indigenous communities, the not-for-profit sector and the open-source community. Team members will work in collaboration to achieve the following project aims:

The project addresses several priority areas of the Innovation and Development Grants program, with the major foci being the innovative use of technology, curriculum design, and strategic approaches to student success, progression and diversity.

Project rationale and Outcomes

The project has been informed by the findings of relevant research undertaken by several members of the project team including a previous Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) funded project (Peer review of online learning and teaching, 2007), the outputs of which included a series of guidelines embedded within an online peer review system designed to scaffold academics in peer reviewing online courses (Wood, Scutter & Wache, 2011), an ALTC funded project involving two of the current project team members (Facilitating flexible, enquiry-based experiential learning through an accessible, three-dimensional virtual learning environment, 2008), which led to the development of guidelines on inclusive approaches to teaching and learning within 3D virtual learning environments (Wood & Bloustien, in press), as well as a UniSA teaching and learning grant exploring the diversity of the ways in which undergraduate students access digital technologies and social media to support their learning (Wood, Barnes, Vivian, Scutter & Stokes-Thompson, 2010). These projects have demonstrated the benefits and challenges of ensuring TEL environments are inclusive of diverse student needs, and have highlighted the need for, and potential of, the proposed project. The project has also been inspired by the ongoing research of Associate Professor Denise Wood and Dr Julie Willems (Wood & Willems, 2012) focusing on inclusive design strategies for students from special equity groups, as well as teaching and learning funded research undertaken by project team members Ms Deirdre Tedmanson and Mr Bruce Underwood with Indigenous communities in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands.

This proposed project builds on the collaboration of project leader, Associate Professor Denise Wood (UniSA), and Professor Gregg Vanderheiden (University of Wisconsin-Madison), who is leading an open source project (Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure), which aims to ‘ensure that everyone who faces accessibility barriers due to disability, literacy, digital literacy, regardless of economic resources, can access and use the Internet and all its information, communities, and services for education, employment, daily living, civic participation, health, and safety’ (http://gpii.net/). This proposed project thus builds on the project team’s experience undertaking relevant research to inform the development of the proposal, while also harnessing existing open source initiatives and international collaborations to achieve the following aims:

Guide academics in the design and redevelopment of their courses through an evidence-based approach to inclusive teaching and learning.

Encourage and raise awareness of personalised learning through the collection of exemplars based on trials of a personalised, responsive learning approach to the delivery of inclusive TEL curricula across disciplinary fields.

Affirm the work of academics already active in the field by providing them with the opportunity to showcase their initiatives in personalising the learning experience of their students.

Facilitate discussion within and between a wide-range of disciplines leading to review of current practices in effective strategies for personalising the learning experience of students.

The outputs from Deakin University’s Design 4 Diversity project and a recently completed Office for Teaching and Learning (OLT) funded project, Addressing effective teaching and support of students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds (Devlin et al, 2012), will inform the development of the framework and guidelines, and members of the project team led by Professor Devlin have agreed to be members of the reference group for this proposed project. The distinctive component of this new IDG project is its focus on employing an evidenced-based approach incorporating Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA; McNall & Foster-Fishman, 2007) of research into the efficacy of personalised learning systems, together with the findings from formal usability and accessibility testing, and learning analytics, which will inform the development of:

The RLS will be open source, to enable it to be adapted by other institutions to suit their teaching and learning, and technical contexts, and will be available as a packaged component for use in open source Learning Management Systems (LMSs), and as a standalone RLS that can be used by students to access a wide variety of learning platforms (including social media). The project will also lead to the development of case studies showcasing evidenced-based approaches to the design and redevelopment of inclusive TEL curricula and the use of the RLS by students.

The project team has demonstrated expertise in the design of accessible online courses and the RLS will incorporate features to ensure it is accessible to a diverse student audience including those from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB), students who lack experience using digital media technologies, students located in remote and rural locations, Indigenous students, as well as students with disabilities such as sensory, mobility and cognitive impairments. The deliverables will include:

In summary, this project:

Proposed Approach

Ethics: This project has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of South Australia. 

Ethical Approval

This project will be conducted over a two year period beginning in August 2013 and concluding in July 2015. The approach has been designed to incorporate the key elements that have been shown to contribute to successful outcomes in ALTC/OLT funded technology enhanced learning and teaching fellowships and projects. These factors include excellence and effective use of evidence to inform practice, sustainability, inclusivity, diversity and collaboration (Keppell, Suddaby & Hard, 2011, p. 24). Thus, the approach adopted in this project involves developing an evidence base to inform the development of a framework, guidelines and the open source RLS application designed to support inclusivity and diversity, and an engaged dissemination approach to facilitate collaboration between partner institutions and other stakeholder groups. The development of the RLS as an open source solution and the commitment of the open source community to its ongoing development will help to ensure the long term sustainability of the RLS developed through the project (see Vanderheiden’s attached letter confirming this ongoing support and commitment to the development of the RLS).

The iterative nature of the systems life cycle proposed for this project will involve formative evaluation throughout the project and revisions of the design of the framework and RLS in response to ongoing feedback from project team and reference group members, as well as from academics and students who participate in the trials. Dissemination will occur throughout the life of the project and a summative evaluation will be conducted at the conclusion. The approach will employ mixed-methods design and ethics approval will be obtained prior to commencement of trials and evaluation.

Management of the project

The project will be managed by the project team leader (Associate Professor Denise Wood) and will follow guiding principles of Australian Standard 3950: Guide to Managing Product Design in the design of an open source RLS. Project team members will meet regularly via Skype and face-to-face when possible, and extensive documentation will be maintained, updated regularly and circulated electronically to the team members each month in advance of scheduled online meetings. Project team members will undertake the following tasks: 1) extend the review and undertake REA of existing inclusive learning approaches to identify features to incorporate into the proposed framework and prototype RLS; 2) assist with pre-intervention assessment and testing, and re-design of courses; 3) participate in and facilitate trials of the framework and RLS; 4) contribute to the formative evaluation of the project; and 5) assist in the dissemination of outputs and engage with the higher education sector.

A reference group comprising representatives from the higher education sector with relevant expertise in teaching and learning, student engagement, and inclusive design (including project leaders of related ALTC/OLT funded projects) as well as representatives with expertise in Indigenous issues, will be established and will meet online at the conclusion of each milestone. The confirmed reference group members include Professor Marcia Devlin, University of Ballarat (project leader of OLT funded project addressing effective teaching and support of students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds); Professor Sally Kift, James Cook University; Professor Ron Oliver, Edith Cowan University; Associate Professor Gregor Kennedy, the University of Melbourne; Dr Julie Willems, Monash University; Professor Gregg Vanderheiden, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA; Ms Makinti Minutjukur, Director of the Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Education Committee; A/Professor Shane Dawson, Deputy Director: Academic Learning Services and Mr Richard Lamb, Manager: Learning and Teaching Systems, UniSA.

Deliverables and Outcomes

Project Outputs

Project Outcomes

Evaluation of the Project

Evaluation will be conducted in a formative manner throughout the design and development stages, and an independent summative evaluation will be conducted on completion of the project (see Table 1 below for timelines and factors to be evaluated). The reference group will oversee the project and will monitor the outcomes at each evaluation milestone. Formative evaluation will be informed by project team and reference group member feedback, and interim findings as the project progresses. The summative evaluation will involve a formal independent evaluation and will address:


This proposal outlines a project that aims to maximise the benefits of an evidence-based approach to the design and redevelopment of courses that suit the needs of a diverse student population. By drawing on the findings of REA, usability and accessibility testing, and learning analytics data, the project will develop a framework, guidelines and an open source responsive learning system, which is adaptive to meet the accessibility needs and learning preferences of individual students, as well as case studies of best practice to guide academics in the design of curriculum materials that facilitate learner engagement within an inclusive TEL environment. The approach outlined in this proposal incorporates the features found to characterise successful technology enhanced learning and teaching projects (Keppell, Suddaby & Hard, 2011) and supports the OLT’s objectives to promote and support change in higher education institutions for the enhancement of learning and teaching through the use of innovative technologies designed to: 1) improve learning outcomes; 2) raise the profile and encourage recognition of learning and teaching in higher education by affirming the work of academics engaged in the effective use of inclusive TEL approaches; 3) employ effective dissemination strategies for facilitating the uptake and integration of the approach in the higher education sector; and 4) develop and support reciprocal collaborations that address emerging issues in the innovative application of new technologies in learning and teaching.


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